Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tallahassee Session 2012 Wrap-Up Report

The 2012 Legislative Session is over!  It started early this year because the reapportionment bills had to be passed and there had to be time for the Florida Supreme Court to approve whatever the legislature came up with. And sure enough, they’re back in special session now to redraw the districts for the Florida Senate.  (It’s still unclear whether the Congressional districts will be approved by the Court or not, or if civil suits will be filed against any or all of the legislature’s maps.) 

But the substantive issues and the budget are done for the year (or at least they should be – we’re keeping a close eye on the special session to be sure they don’t try to slip anything by.)

This report covers what happened with the top environmental issues, both good and bad.  We’ll start off with the top three (actually, the top two followed by a bunch tied for third) and then list other bills of note with a brief description of their effect.

Your visits, calls, and emails made a big difference.  We had to play “defense” most of the time, but on the whole we did pretty well.  We are now heading into the election season when legislators are most interested in what you have to say.  Be sure to take advantage of that opportunity.  Thank you for all you do for our planet!

Top Issues

Fertilizer

Our victory on stopping fertilizer preemption was the number one story this session …twice! Thanks to years of grassroots action, coalition building, and organizing we were able to stave off the “carve out” from the rainy season application ban for lawn care workers in SB 604 by Sen. Dean and HB 421 by Rep. Smith. Then, when the fertilizer industry got Rep. Albritton to file an amendment to HB 1021 to totally preempt all regulation of urban turf fertilizer to DACS (making it impossible to even enforce the model ordinance in 402.9337) followed shortly by the same approach to Sen. Norman's SB 1184, we mobilized our local elected officials, grassroots, environmental groups, and cities and counties so effectively - in less than 24 hours - that both legislators withdrew their amendments and the issue died for the year.

I’m sure we'll see it again next year, but with each new local ordinance at the county or municipal level, we expand our base of citizens and officials who have demonstrated their concern for water quality, and their understanding that prevention beats cure!  That translates to power in the Capitol.  This is not a partisan issue; it is an industry against the public interest. 

Septic Tanks

Number two, on the down side, was the passage of HB 1263 with the bad septic tank language in it. The session started with Sen. Dean filing a fairly good bill (SB 820) that “threaded the needle” as far as the home builders/industry vs. environmentalists was concerned. We supported the bill when it was filed. But then it was matched up to Rep. Dorworth's HB 999 which sets a very low ceiling on what can be done by localities on the septic tank issue.

It allows counties and municipalities to opt out of the program and specifically excludes drainfield problems from the definition of “system failure” and thereby precludes any requirement for a fix. The preemption in the bill is a
sort of one-size-fits-all or smaller.  Localities can do what is in the bill… or they can do less.  But they cannot do anything that repeals, suspends, or alters the requirements or limitations of the bill.

A Florida Dept. of Health report estimates that 1.7 million septic tank systems in Florida date from before 1983 - and the passage of HB 1263 guarantees that many of them will not be inspected, even if local folks want to pass an ordinance because of nutrient pollution and threats to public health. The City of Tallahassee sent a letter to their Senator, Bill Montford, saying the city cannot meet its TMDLs to protect Wakulla Springs if it is prevented from dealing with septic systems.

Numerous bills were filed to repeal the septic tank provisions of SB 550 (2010 session) including:

  • HB 79 by Rep. Coley
  • SB 114 by Sen. Evers
  • SB 178 by Sen. Lynn

None of these bills were heard in committee.

Rep. Drake also filed HB 115 which would strike the prohibition of the land application of septage starting in 2016.  HB 115 passed all of its committees, but died on the calendar because the Senate companion, SB 558 by Sen. Hays was never heard in its first committee.



Tied for third…

Here’s a selection of issues that came in tied for third:

Bad - Numeric Nutrient Criteria ratification bill - This would be at the top of the list except that the real action has moved to the courts – Sierra Club and our co-litigants have filed an administrative challenge to the DEP rule because its implementation will result in the state doing even less for water quality than it is doing now. The next step will be in federal court.  Both the state and federal actions can spike the effect of this bill altogether and force EPA to require meaningful protection of Florida’s waters.  The goals of HB 7051 are to do an end-run around the legislature’s own requirement that the DEP proposed rule be ratified, to require that if the rule is amended in any way it will need ratification, and to require that the proposed DEP rule be sent to EPA within thirty days of becoming law.  Gov. Scott signed 7051 into law on Feb. 16, 2012. 

Good - HB 695 by Rep. Ford/SB 1158 by Sen. Evers Oil and Gas Development was knocked down, though it passed all of its committees in the House.  This bill would have created a completely new avenue to open up state conservation lands for oil/gas development bypassing the protections that have been built into Chapter 253, F.S.  HB 695/SB 1158 had no requirement for an analysis of the impact on the environment and no requirement for a surety bond in case of a spill.  The House bill passed all of its committees, but the Senate version passed only its first.  Then it died in Environmental Protection and Conservation.

Good – HB 639 by Rep. Young/SB 1086 by Sen. Garcia Reclaimed Water - The bill was amended to remove the exclusion of "reclaimed water" from the definition of "water" and "waters in the state".  The bill passed with the amendments we negotiated to avoid any chance of water becoming a commodity.  The bill reduces some Water Management District (WMD) permitting flexibility, but preserves regional water supply planning.

Good - The final version of the conforming bill for WMDs’ budgets removed the caps imposed by last year's SB 2142 and eliminates legislative micromanagement of District budgets.

The 350 acre Bird Drive Everglades Basin land swap was removed, but the bill still says it is in the public interest for WMDs to purchase and operate information signs paid for by private sponsors who will show advertisements.

Bad - The amendment to impose the summary hearing process on challenges to deep water port dredging projects (aimed at the current challenge in the Port of Miami) was amended onto a number of bills, including HB 1998, the DOT conforming bill, where it was impossible to remove.

Bad – HB 599 Mitigation passed.  The bill removes the requirement that the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) look to WMD mitigation banks when it destroys wetlands in the process of building roads – and imposes the summary process on challenges to deep water port permits (see immediately above)

Good - The Ordinary High Water Mark bill died.  (HB 1103 by Rep. Goodson/SB 1362 by Sen. Hays) Thanks to a strong coalition effort (with lots of help from hunters and fishermen) this bill that could have transferred half a million acres of state land to private ownership died in committee - but expect it back next year...

And in a sort of class by itself: 503/716 by Rep. Patronis and Sen. Bennett. This bill, Environmental Permitting, was a continuation of last year's HB 991. Over the course of two years, many stakeholder meetings, and work by Sierra Club, Audubon, and Clean Water Action as the lead environmental organizations, along with the cities and counties, we slogged through and were able to turn an awful bill into a moderately bad one. There isn't much to like in the bill, but we got rid of a bunch of stuff that we hated. (We were able to remove the dredging language in the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, reduce limitations on reasons for revoking permits, and eliminated the exclusion of mining from the DRI process.) The worst thing on this bill was last year when the third party language that deprives a challenger of their due process rights from HB 991 was amended onto HB 993 and passed into law. That section of the bill is being challenged in court... by an attorney who was on Gov. Scott's transition team.

Other issues of note

Other important issues include:

  • The statewide Environmental Resource Permit bill passed (HB 7003 by Rep. Crisafulli/SB 1354 by Sen. Detert).  The bill requires DEP and the Water Management Districts to reconcile the differences between the different districts’ and regions’ permitting to come up with a statewide ERP.  The real battle will be in the rule making process.
  • HB 7117 Energy by Rep. Plakon/SB 2094 by Communication, Energy, and Public Utilities passed.  This is a modest energy bill that includes funding for an evaluation of FEECA (Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act), creates a sales tax exemption and a tax credit for renewable fuels, and creates a renewable energy production credit against the corporate income tax of up to $1 million per corporation and $5 million in the aggregate.
  • Ocean Outfalls did not pass. (SB 724 by Sen. Diaz de la Portilla/HB 989 by Rep. Gonzalez)  The bill would have pushed back planning and reporting deadlines but retained the 2025 final date for compliance.  This bill will undoubtedly be back next year.
  • Local communities whose charters require a referendum to approve comp plan amendments will once again be allowed to hold them thanks to a provision included in HB 7081, the growth management “glitch” bill. A section of the bill addresses the concerns of Yankeetown and Long Boat Key.  Sierra Club Florida and our allies in the fight against last year’s destruction of growth management worked together to win this small victory.  We were aided by Yankeetown’s stated intent to sue the state because last year’s bill gutted their charter requirement.
  • Airboats were voted down in committee. (SB 958 by Sen. Oelrich/HB 773 by Rep. Abruzzo).  The bill as filed would have allowed airboats to make much more noise than other vessels and would have prevented localities from protecting their citizens from the racket.
  • Advertising on Greenways and Trails (SB 268 by Sen. Wise/HB 181 by Rep. Slosberg) was limited to signs in parking lots, at trailheads, and public entries at seven G&T locations by stakeholders who worked with the sponsor …then expanded in a last minute amendment on the floor of the Senate.
  • Public Meetings passed the full Senate and passed its House committees – The bill is in good shape for next year.  SB 206 by Sen. Negron/HB 355 by Rep. Kiar would ensure members of the public have the right to speak at public meetings of government boards.
  • Funding was provided for the Everglades at $30 million, and for Florida Forever at $8.4 million.  This was less than the Governor had recommended in his budget, but both programs are continued.
  • Water and Wastewater Utilities, the bill that would have ended tiered rates to promote water conservation was amended to be only a study (Sen. Hays SB 1244/HB 1379 by Rep.Brodeur)
  • Freshwater Rivers and Lakes, the bill that would have allowed fresh water dredging without a permit died in committee (Sen. Hays SB 1240)
  • SB 663, Solid Waste Management Facilities by Rep. Goodson was amended to include environmental protections
  • HB 7045, the bill that would have authorized up to 37 year Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs) died in Senate Messages.
  • The provision in HB 1021 by Rep. Albritton/SB 1184 by Sen. Norman that would have made it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to take a picture on a farm without the owner’s written permission was amended out of the bill.
  • Also in 1021/1184, the expansion of the prohibition on collecting stormwater fees by government entities was scaled back to allow fees for special districts created to deal with agricultural stormwater
  • 377/182 Lake Belt Miami-Dade by Rep. Nunez/Sen. Garcia – This bill permanently diverts up to $20 million from the Water Treatment Plant Upgrade (made necessary by mining activity) to a mitigation wall needed to prevent flooding and to allow Everglades sheet flow to pass beneath the 1 mile bridge (also made necessary by mining activity.)  Taxpayers/ratepayers will have to pick up the tab.
  • HB 13/SB 88 by Sen. Latvala/Rep. Frishe Sovereignty Submerged Lands passed.  This bill provides that boat slips for condos will be subject to similar charges as those for single family homes
  • HB 133/SB 156 Assessment of Residentail and Non-Homestead Real Property also by Sen. Latvala/Rep. Frishe that would have implemented the constitutional amendment adopted in 2008 preventing assessment of capital improvements related to renewable energy and hurricane strengthening failed to pass … again.  (Note, this constitutional amendment was adopted in 2008!)
  • 313/802 Premises Liability by Rep. Bembry/Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee passed – This bill reduces the liability of property owners who allow people to use their property for hunting, fishing, or wildlife viewing.
  • 611/1614 King’s Bay by Rep. Smith/Sen. Dean  memorial passed.  This memorial tells Congress that the Florida legislature opposes the US Fish and Wildlife Service plan to protect manatees by requiring a slow zone in King’s Bay in Citrus County.
  • 691/758 Beach Renourishment by Sen. Jones/Rep. Frishe passed.  This bill was amended to address a number of our concerns, not the least of which was the removal of language that could have been used to argue for near shore oil/gas exploration.
  • 979/1180 Developments of Regional Impact by Rep. Diaz/Sen. Bennett passed.  The bill excludes some projects from the DRI process (but not those within the Wekiva Study Area or within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area boundary) and inserts language entitling an owner of an agricultural enclave to a comprehensive plan amendment conforming the enclave land use to that of the surrounding area.   The bill limits agency comments to what is consistent with local ordinances regarding development in that jurisdiction; only requires analysis of whether there is adequate low income housing to localities with an affordable housing policy as part of its strategic regional policy plan; and limits regional planning agency comments to those consistent with state agency and WMD standards.
  • Sen. Bullard’s SB 148/HB 447 by Rep. Bullard Community Redevelopment did not pass.  The bill would have expanded the qualification for a “blighted area” to include an abandoned military facility adjacent to a county zoological facility making it eligible for tax increment funding.  The property in question contains an endangered plant species: Polygala smallii or tiny polygala. 
  • HB 157 by Rep. Porter/SB 560 by Sen. Dean Water Management Districts that would have required WMDs whose permitting would affect the minimum flows and levels (MFLs) of neighboring districts to work with those districts passed the full House, but the Senate bill died in the Senate Budget committee.  The bill had been severely weakened during the session making it only prospective and eliminating the requirement that the district issuing the CUP adhere to the MFLs and strategies of the affected district.
  • SB 740 by Sen. Fasano/HB 4031 by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda that would have repealed early cost recovery for nuclear power plants was never heard in committee and therefore, died.  See Boondoggle, a video produced by Miami Group and Sierra Club Florida here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/32992283/Boondoggle%20DVD.mov?dl=1
David Cullen, Sierra Club Florida lobbyist